Concerns over police head injuries

July 20, 2020

Head injuries may be worryingly common among police officers, according to a new pilot study led by the University of Exeter.

In a sample of 54 UK officers, 21 (38.9%) reported having suffered a "traumatic brain injury" (TBI) resulting in a loss of consciousness in their lives.

This proportion is far higher than the estimated rate of 8-12% in the general public.

Officers with a history of TBI reported higher levels of ongoing "post-concussion symptoms" such as headaches, memory problems and anxiety.

These officers were also moderately more likely to report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and drinking alcohol to cope, and much more likely to report symptoms of depression.

The pilot study is one of the first to examine this issue among police officers, and the researchers say more investigation is urgently needed.

"The main thing to take away from this is that we need to look after people who are in the front line of public protection," said Professor Huw Williams, of the University of Exeter.

"TBI has been extensively linked to mental health difficulties including PTSD, depression and alcohol abuse.

"Being a police officer is a dangerous job - with a risk of both physical and mental trauma - yet there has been a surprising lack of research investigating the presence and influence of TBI in the police.

"Our pilot study is based on a relatively small sample size, but it illustrates the importance of screening for TBI and offering treatment and support where necessary."

Professor Williams added: "Many police forces are moving towards a more sensitive, 'trauma-informed' approach to dealing with the public.

"We expect police officers to turn up in a variety of hideous situations, so it's vital that they are given then help they need to recover from and trauma - including brain injuries - that they suffer."

Interestingly, two thirds of the TBIs reported happened outside of police work.

The study does not explore the circumstances of these injuries, but the researchers say officers may be more likely than the public to engage in high-risk leisure activities, and some may have been injured in previous work such as military service.

All TBI cases in the study were classified as "mild" - with loss of consciousness of less than 30 minutes.

However, the authors noted that repeated TBI was common - a matter of "particular concern" as this is known to raise the risk of mental health issues.

"TBI, including mild forms, can cause significant and potentially long-lasting cognitive, emotional and behavioural impairments," said lead author Nick Smith, of the University of Exeter.

"This includes a three-fold increased risk of suicide in those suffering from any TBI.

"However, with the right support and treatment, it is possible to recover from TBI and avoid getting into negative coping mechanisms such as alcohol abuse.

"In other fields, such as sport, head injuries have received a great deal of attention, and protocols have improved dramatically.

"We need to take similar care of police officers."

Detective Chief Inspector Lewis Prescott-Mayling, a co-author of the paper, said: "We have some fantastic support for our staff but we need to treat people according to their needs and as early as possible.

"The trauma people are exposed to can have lasting effects.

"This applies to our staff as much as to people from our communities.

"We welcome this research and its findings."

Of the 54 officers in the study, nine met criteria for PTSD and 21 met criteria for mild or more severe depression.

The study - conducted in a UK police constabulary - suggests a surprising parallel with the UK prison population, as previous research has suggested about 60% of inmates have suffered a TBI.
-end-
The paper, published in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, is entitled: "A pilot study of brain injury in police officers: A source of mental health problems?"

University of Exeter

Related PTSD Articles from Brightsurf:

'Brain fog' following COVID-19 recovery may indicate PTSD
A new report suggests that lingering ''brain fog'' and other neurological symptoms after COVID -19 recovery may be due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an effect observed in past human coronavirus outbreaks such as SARS and MERS.

PTSD may double risk of dementia
People who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are up to twice as likely to develop dementia later in life, according to a new study by UCL researchers, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

How building features impact veterans with PTSD
The built environment, where someone lives (private) or works (public), influences a person's daily life and can help, or hinder, their mental health.

Work-related PTSD in nurses
A recent Journal of Clinical Nursing analysis of published studies examined the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among nurses and identified factors associated with work-related PTSD among nurses.

PTSD and moral injury linked to pregnancy complications
Elevated symptoms of PTSD and moral injury can lead to pregnancy complications, found a Veterans Affairs study of women military veterans.

Early treatment for PTSD after a disaster has lasting effects
In 1988, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck near the northern Armenian city of Spitak.

Cyberbullying Linked to Increased Depression and PTSD
Cyberbullying had the impact of amplifying symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in young people who were inpatients at an adolescent psychiatric hospital, according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Psychedelic drugs could help treat PTSD
Clinical trials suggest treatment that involves psychedelics can be more effective than psychotherapy alone.

Which is more effective for treating PTSD: Medication, or psychotherapy?
A systematic review and meta-analysis led by Jeffrey Sonis, MD, MPH, of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, finds there is insufficient evidence at present to answer that question.

Cannabis could help alleviate depression and suicidality among people with PTSD
Cannabis may be helping Canadians cope with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), new research suggests.

Read More: PTSD News and PTSD Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.